Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Jamie Pooley exhumation row hears of 'very unpleasant' process

A battle over whether to exhume the body of young Christchurch father Jamie Pooley has reached the High Court. Photo: supplied.
A battle over whether to exhume the body of young Christchurch father Jamie Pooley has reached the High Court. Photo: supplied.

WARNING: SOME READERS MAY FIND THE CONTENT OF THIS ARTICLE UPSETTING

Exhumation is a "very difficult and very unpleasant" process that is deeply upsetting for family members, the trial into whether the body of young Christchurch father Jamie Pooley should be dug up has heard.

The grisly practical steps of disinterring a body have been outlined by two expert witnesses at the High Court in Christchurch today.

Family members are allowed to witness the exhumation of a body, but it can be "highly emotional... very upsetting" and "doesn't take much to push people over the edge", Christchurch City Council's head sexton Ian Newton told the court.

Cheyenne Rana Biddle wants to exhume the body of her long-term partner, Jamie Robert Pooley, who died on May 14, 2011, so that he could be cremated and returned to his ancestral homeland.

Biddle claims the 27-year-old father-of-three, who was buried in a family plot at Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, always wanted to be cremated.

Pooley's whanau deny the claims and do not want him disturbed.

Biddle took legal action to pursue the move, which has parallels with the James Takamore case.

On day three of the hearing, Geoffrey Robert Topham-Hall, owner and director of Geoffrey Hall Funeral Services Ltd, said Pooley's remains would now "likely be a jellified and liquefied mess".

The MDF casket, along with medium-to-high water level tables of Memorial Park Cemetery, mean that now, five years after his burial, it would be "extremely unlikely" that Pooley's remains could be removed "in a complete or semi-complete state", he said.

Topham-Hall, who has been involved in five or six disinterments, says exhumations are always carried out before sunrise given the sensitive and "potentially-distressing nature" of the process.

Funeral directors, the council sexton and staff, along with a district health board health officer, and any family members, would usually be present, he said.

"The entire operation is very difficult and very unpleasant," Topham-Hall said.

Newton, a sexton with 11 years' experience who has carried out more than 20 disinterments in various stages of decomposition, said the "highest level of respect" is given to the remains at all times.

The day before the exhumation, cemetery staff would go down to the casket to examine its condition and see what steps would be required in order to disinter the remains.

After five years, it was likely that Pooley's casket had since collapsed and become "soggy".

He expected Pooley's skeletal remains to still be fully intact, but accepted that some jellified remains might be found.

Disinterment, Newton said, was "obviously very highly emotional".

"It's very upsetting and it doesn't take much to push people over the edge," he said.

Pooley's father Bruce Pooley today made an emotional plea for the case to be thrown out.

"As his father, I want him to stay where he is."

The civil trial, before Justice Gerald Nation, will continue tomorrow with closing submissions.

Once the evidence is heard, and submissions are complete, Justice Nation is expected to reserve his decision.

- NZ Herald

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